The Rolling Stone Interview with John Lennon
Interviewed by Jonathan Colt | Published: 23 November 1968 | Source: Rolling Stone
The interview took place at John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s temporary basement flat in London, a flat where Jimi Hendrix, Ringo Starr, and William Burroughs have stayed. But the flat seemed as much John and Yoko’s as the Indian incense that took over the living room. The walls were covered with photos of John, of Yoko, a giant Sgt. Pepper ensign, Richard Chamberlain’s poster collage of news clippings of the Stones bust, and the Time magazine cover of the Beatles.
We arrived at five on the afternoon of Sept. 17, said hello to Robert Fraser, who arranged the interview, to John and Yoko, sitting together, looking “tres bien ensemble”. We sat down around a simple wooden table, covered with magazines, newspapers, sketch paper, boxes, drawings, and a beaded necklace.
John said he had to be at a recording session in half an hour, so we talked for a while about John’s show at the Fraser Gallery. John wrote some reminders to himself in the wonderfully intense absorbed way that a kid has painting the sun for the first time. As a philosopher once remarked: “Were art to redeem man, it could do so only by saving him from the seriousness of life and restoring him to an unexpected boyishness.”
There’s nothing more fun than talking about your own songs and your own records…
~ John Lennon
When we arrived the next afternoon, September 18, John was walking around the room, humming what sounded like Hold Me Tigh — just singing the song to the air. Old ’50’s forty-fives were scattered about the floor, and John played Rosie and the Originals’ version of “Give Me Love.” We talked about the lyrics of Gene Vincent’s “Woman Love.” In spite of having slept only two hours, John asked us to sit down on the floor and begin the interview.
Any suspicions that John would be ornery, mean, cruel or brutish — feelings attributed to him and imagined by press reports and various paranoiac personalities — never arose even for the purpose of being pressed down. As John said simply about the interview: “There’s nothing more fun than talking about your own songs and your own records. I mean, you can’t help it, it’s your bit, really. We talk about them together. Remember that”.
It’s impossible to recapture in print John’s inflections and pronunciations of words like “ahppens” for example. Wish you had been there.
Q: I‘ve listed a group of songs that I associate with you, in terms of what you are or what you were, songs that struck me as embodying you a little bit: You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, Strawberry Fields, It’s Only Love, She Said She Said, Lucy in the Sky, I’m Only Sleeping, Run for Your Life, I Am the Walrus, All You Need Is Love, Rain, Girl.
Q: I feel you in these songs more than in a song like Michelle for example.
Q: I heard that Strawberry Fields was written when you were sitting on a beach alone.
Q: Don’t you find something special about that song?
Q: There have been a lot of philosophical analyses written about your songs, Strawberry Fields in particular…
Q: In Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds what about an image like ‘newspaper taxis’?
Q: Pop analysts are often trying to read something into songs that isn’t there.
Q: What is Strawberry Fields?
Q: How much do you think the songs go toward building up a myth of a state of mind?
Q: The Beatles seem to be one of the only groups who ever made a distinction between friends and lovers. For Instance, there’s the ‘baby’ who can drive your car. But when it comes to ‘We Can Work It Out,’ you talk about ‘my friend.’ In most other groups’ songs, calling someone ‘baby’ is a bit demeaning compared to your distinction.
Q: I’ve felt your other mood recently: ‘Here I stand, head in hand’ in ‘Hide Your Love Away’ and ‘When I was a boy, everything was right’ in She Said She Said‘
Q: Yet people think you’re trying to get away from the old records.
Q: Wasn’t it about the time of Rubber Soul that you moved away from the old records to something quite different?
Q: Are there any other versions of your songs you like?
That’s what this new record is about. Definitely rocking. What we were doing on Pepper was rocking, and not rocking. A Day in the Life — that was something. I dug it. It was a good piece of work between Paul and me. I had the ‘I read the news today’ bit, and it turned Paul on. Now and then we really turn each other on with a bit of song, and he just said ‘yeah — bang bang,’ like that. It just sort of happened beautifully, and we arranged it and rehearsed it, which we don’t often do, the afternoon before. So we all knew what we were playing, we all got into it. It was a real groove, the whole scene on that one. Paul sang half of it and I sang half. I needed a middle-eight for it, but that would have been forcing it. All the rest had come out smooth, flowing, no trouble, and to write a middle-eight would have been to write a middle-eight, but instead Paul already had one there. It’s a bit of a 2001, you know.
Q: Songs like Good Morning, Good Morning and Penny Lane convey a child’s feeling of the world.
Q: You really had a place where you grew up.
Q: Well, Manhattan isn’t Liverpool.
Q: In Manhattan?
Q: In Hey Jude, as in one of your first songs, She Loves You, you’re singing to someone else and yet you might as well be singing to yourself. Do you find that as well?
Q: In the Magical Mystery Tour theme song you say, ‘The Magical Mystery Tour is waiting to take you away.’ In Sgt. Pepper you sing, ‘We’d like to take you home with us.’ How do you relate this embracing, come-sit-on-my-lawn feeling in the songs with your need for everyday privacy?
Q: Do you feel free to put anything in a song?
Another thing is, I used to write a book or stories on one hand and write songs on the other. And I’d be writing completely free form in a book or just on a bit of paper, but when I’d start to write a song I’d be thinking: dee duh dee duh do doo do de do de doo. And it took Dylan and all that was going on then to say, ‘oh, come on now, that’s the same bit, I’m just singing the words.’ With ‘I Am the Walrus,’ I had ‘I am he as you are he as we are all together.’ I had just these two lines on the typewriter, and then about two weeks later I ran through and wrote another two lines and then, when I saw something, after about four lines, I just knocked the rest of it off. Then I had the whole verse or verse and a half and then sang it. I had this idea of doing a song that was a police siren, but it didn’t work in the end (sings like a siren) ‘I-am-he-as-you-are-he-as…’ You couldn’t really sing the police siren.
Q: Do you write your music with instruments or in your head?
Q: What did you think of Dylan’s version of Norwegian Wood?
Q: Is there anybody besides Dylan you’ve gotten something from musically?
Q: Anyone contemporary?
Q: You and Dylan are often thought of together in some way.
Q: Do you ever see him anymore?
Q: What about the new desire to return to a more natural environment? Dylan’s return to country music?
Q: Do you feel better now?
Q: What do you feel about India now?
So I can’t really manage my exercises when I’ve lost that. I mean, I don’t want to be a boxer so much. It’s just that a few things happened, or didn’t happen. I don’t know, but something happened. It was sort of like a (click) and we just left and I don’t know what went on. It’s too near — I don’t really know what happened.
Q: You just showed me what might be the front and back album photos for the record you’re putting out of the music you and Yoko composed for your film Two Virgins. The photos have the simplicity of a daguerreotype…
Q: For the cover, there’s a photo of you and Yoko standing naked facing the camera. And on the backside are your backsides. What do you think people are going to think of the cover?
Originally, I was going to record Yoko, and I thought the best picture of her for an album would be her naked. I was just going to record her as an artist. We were only on those kind of terms then. So after that, when we got together, it just seemed natural for us, if we made an album together, for both of us to be naked. Of course, I’ve never seen me prick on an album or on a photo before: ‘What’n’earth, there’s a fellow with his prick out.’ And that was the first time I realized me prick was out, you know. I mean, you can see it on the photo itself — we’re naked in front of a camera — that comes over in the eyes, just for a minute you go!! I mean, you’re not used to it, being naked, but it’s got to come out.
Q: How do you face the fact that people are going to mutilate you?
Q: You don’t worry about the nuts across the street?
Q: Lenny Bruce once compared himself to a doctor, saying that if people weren‘t sick, there wouldn’t be any need for him.
Q: Couldn’t you go off to your own community and not be bothered with all of this?
Q: Your show at the Fraser Gallery gave critics a chance to take a swipe at you.
Q: Do you think Yoko’s film of you smiling would work of it were just anyone smiling?
Q: It’s too bad people can’t come down here and individually to see how you’re living.
Q: International Times recently published an interview with Jean-Luc Godard…
Q: But Godard put it in activist political terms. He said that people with influence and money should be trying to blow up the establishment and that you weren’t.
Q: Time magazine came out and said, look, the Beatles say ‘no’ to destruction.
Q: What would you tell a black-power guy who’s changed his head and then finds a wall there all the time?
Source: Transcribed by www.beatlesinterviews.org from Rolling Stone issue No.22 published 23 Nov. 1968.
Copyright © 1968 Rolling Stone